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By David Suzuki with contributions from Ontario Science Projects Manager Rachel Plotkin

B.C. is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a captive breeding program to protect spotted owls. With an estimated six of the owls left in the wild in Canada, all in B.C., that seems like good news. But while the program includes some habitat protection, the province is also approving logging in habitat the owl needs to survive.

It’s a major flaw in government-led conservation efforts. Stories of captive breeding programs that lead to successful animal re-introduction are happy, but they’re often born out of sad stories about the animals’ plight.

Captive breeding programs are last-ditch efforts to save animals after humans have degraded or destroyed their habitat to the point where it’s difficult for them to survive. In almost every case, experts and regulators are aware of the species’ decline and the reasons behind it, but calls for habitat conservation go unheeded, or efforts are inadequate to ensure the animals can continue.

Species don’t disappear overnight. Activities that degrade and destroy habitat are allowed to continue until a species is driven to point where it can no longer function in the wild and needs human help.

Conservation would work better if land-use management regimes focused on maintaining habitat wildlife needs to survive before it’s too late. Instead, we wait until tipping points have been passed and then scramble to capture animals for breeding.

Captive breeding itself is often controversial, riddled with risks. When humans handle wildlife over generations, animals can become semi-domesticated and lose intergenerational knowledge about survival in nature. Once they’re re-introduced into the wild, many don’t make it.

The odds of captured predators such as tigers and wolves surviving freedom are only 33 per cent, according to recent research, and studies show captive-bred animals are more likely to interact and mate with other captive-bred animals and lose their ability to communicate with wild peers. Another study concluded captive-bred animals may develop behavioural changes such as “decrease in predator avoidance, decrease in foraging abilities, increase in sleeping patterns, decrease in overall activity, and some problems in social behaviors.”

The intergenerational effects are biological as well as cultural. One study showed captive breeding can result in genetic changes between captive and wild lineages, and confinement can make animals more susceptible to disease outbreaks. (A tragic lion-breeding program resulted in the deaths of nearly two dozen “struck by a mysterious disease aggravated by inbreeding and a weakened gene pool.”)

The main issue is the risk of releasing captive-bred wildlife into degraded habitat that couldn’t support it in the first place. Most examples of successful endangered species recovery involve animals facing threats other than habitat loss. Eagles were declining because of DDT contamination until it was banned. Condors were being poisoned by lead in the bodies of the carrion they ate until lead shot was limited.

Read full David Suzuki here

 Residents of B.C.'s Interior shouldn't be alarmed if they start seeing a bunch of owls flying around in coming days. It's all part of the plan.

The B.C. Wildlife Park — a zoo in Kamloops, B.C. — has been working for decades to save the native population of burrowing owls from extinction. The park released dozens of the birds into the wild Friday.

It's part of a provincial survival plan to stabilize the animal's declining population.

"Historically, there were owls here, but we like to live exactly where the owls like to live," said Tracy Reynolds, a zookeeper at the park.

"Because of our farms actually taking over their habitat, they've declined to the point of being almost gone."

The park, a member of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., is trying to create livable areas for the creatures, educate the public on their importance and prevent further owl-habitat loss.

For years, the park has been breeding burrowing owls, and then moving them to large, caged enclosures around the Interior as they get older.

First, the animal spends some time flapping around the enclosure, getting used to it. Then, when the time is right, the enclosures are opened and almost 100 of the tagged owls will be free to roam.

The hope is that many of the tagged owls will return to the prepared enclosures in B.C. after they migrate south for the winter.

Read the full article by Matt Humphrey at CBC

Original CBC article here.

Saturday, 02 September 2017 07:26

Lauren Meads: Top 40 Entrepreneur

This year, Okanagan Edge and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce have partnered to showcase some of the Okanagan’s most exciting entrepreneurs, through the Top 40 Under 40 program.

This week we recognize Lauren Meads, the executive director of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC.

Lauren Meads has always been passionate about animals, but became fascinated with animal behaviour and conservation during her university studies.

Meads started volunteering with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC when she was working on a breeding program for the Northern Spotted Owl.

In 2015 Meads became the field manager for all of the release sites across the province, and this year was named the executive director of the Burrowing Owl Society of BC.

Along with managing breeding activities, Meads works with other volunteers, organizations and local schools.

“This is definitely not your typical job, that you would think has a place in the entrepreneurial world, but it is,” Meads says. “Even with a cute owl by my side I need to convince others of conservation through presentations, fundraising, grant writing and media.”

Click here for the full article at Castanet Media

Tuesday, 16 May 2017 07:23

Global Owl Project in Umatilla Oregon

As founder of the Global Owl Project, David Johnson works with 450 people in 65 countries to research, track, and preserve owl habitat.

He runs a multi-partner project at Umatilla Chemical Depot, in Oregon where volunteers are working hard to increase the numbers or burrowing owls.

A female owl that was tagged and released by BOCS BC was identified nesting at the Umatilla site. She has since mated and produced several young owls that are being monitored.

Dave co-operates with the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC to help save this endangered species.

Read more YakTriNews

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 07:21

WildLens Eyes on Conservation

Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) are a small (150-180 g) species of owl that nests in the natural grasslands of North and South America.

They live in burrows that are first constructed by other burrowing mammals; in BC these mammals are usually badgers and ground squirrels. They are the only owl that nests in the ground, hence their name “burrowing.”

When they first establish a burrow, they remodel the inside by kicking out old dirt.

Sadly, these charismatic owls have been disappearing throughout their range over the last 30 years. In Canada they are listed as Red-Listed (meaning endangered), and in British Columbia they were deemed extirpated in the early 1980s.

There are several potential reasons for declines in Burrowing Owl populations: loss of habitat due to land development, loss of prey species (rodents, grasshoppers), possibly due to agriculture spraying; and the loss of burrowing animals (badgers, ground squirrels, marmots) to dig the holes Burrowing Owls live in. These factors combined with climate changes make this a complex multi-level conservation issue.

Read More at Wild Lens Burrowing Owls of BC

Thursday, 17 August 2017 07:21

Burrowing Owl Hits Charitable Milestone

The Okanagan's Burrowing Owl Estate Winery is proud to announce a milestone in its support of charitable organizations including the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C.

As of Aug. 1, 2017, the winery had raised $1,029,357, which has benefited not only the BOCSBC, but also other worthy organizations such as the South Okanagan Raptor Rehabilitation Centre, the Nature Trust of British Columbia, and Nature Conservancy Canada.

The winery celebrated this achievement with a visit by Pluto, an educational ambassador burrowing owl from the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society, and Lauren Meads, biologist and executive director of the society.

Since 2004, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has been raising funds for conservation by charging a $3 tasting fee to patrons who sample its wines at its on-site wine shop. Proceeds have been donated on an annual basis, with the BOCSBC receiving the lion's share of the funds.

The BOCSBC has always held a special place in the heart of winery proprietor Jim Wyse, who notes “we're always conscious that we really owe our success to the land we grow our grapes on, and helping this beautiful bird survive is one way we can give back to the earth, for all it gives us.”

“Burrowing Owl Estate Winery has taken on a key stewardship role for this species at risk,” said Mike Mackintosh, president of the BOCSBC.

“Their long-term support has given our society the stability and the means to focus on what is most important — rebuilding a self-sustaining population of these tiny, amazing owls in the southern Interior grasslands of B.C.”

Burrowing Owl winery wishes to thank all those who visited the winery's tasting room over the years, and helped put this amazing bird on the road to recovery.

Read the full article Penticton Herald.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 07:18

Species Spotlight - Burrowing Owl

Common name: Burrowing Owl

Latin name: Athene cunicularia

Status under SARA: Endangered, 2006 COSEWIC assessment: Endangered

Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba

Life Span: three to four years

Size: 23-28 cm tall; weighs 125-185 g

Population Estimate: Fewer than 1,000 pairs in Canada

The Facts

Burrowing Owls often stand upright on their long thin legs so they can see farther out over the flat prairie.

Often, the male will stand watch outside the burrow while the female and her young are underground. If an intruder comes near, the male sounds an alarm call and then tries to lure the intruder away from the nest with a series of short flights. If the intruder continues, the young birds go to the back of the burrow and make a hissing noise that sounds like a rattlesnake.

They leave for their wintering areas in the southeastern United States and Mexico in September, and return to Canada in April.

Grasshoppers and beetles are the favourite foods of the Burrowing Owl. They also eat a few mice, voles, ground squirrels, toads, small birds, and carrion.

Females lay six to twelve white eggs and incubate them for about four weeks. When the nest gets too crowded (after about two weeks), the young move to the entrance of the nest where they stand waiting for the adults to bring them food. About seven to eight weeks after hatching, the young will start to feed themselves.

After the young are active above ground, they may move to other burrows near the burrow in which they were born.

The Story

Burrowing Owls look like little owls on stilts. They are 23-28 cm tall standing on long thin legs. The Burrowing Owl is unlike most owls in many ways: it lives in burrows in the ground, is active during the day, the female is smaller than the male, and its favourite foods are insects.

Burrowing Owls were common summer residents in the southern regions of the prairie provinces and BC until the mid-1900s when modern agriculture practices began. Cultivation of the land for agriculture has severely reduced Burrowing Owl habitat over the years. By 1979, Burrowing Owls were extirpated from BC. Burrowing Owl populations in the prairie provinces continue to decline. Today, it is thought fewer than 1,000 pairs remain in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and on rare occasions in southwestern Manitoba. Occasionally, the owls winter in coastal British Columbia and are seen in Ontario and Quebec during spring.

Burrowing Owls require open areas with low ground cover, existing burrows, and abundant food. They rely on holes in the ground made by ground squirrels, badgers, and foxes in which they make their nests. Unfortunately, some farmers regard these animals as pests and kill them. With declining populations of these mammals, Burrowing Owls are unable to find suitable nesting sites. Furthermore, ground squirrels and foxes are often killed with poison and, when Burrowing Owls feed on their carcasses, they too are poisoned.

Another threat Burrowing Owls face is “Carbofuron,” a pesticide used to kill grasshoppers in farm fields. When Carbofuran is applied in fields and Burrowing Owls eat the poisoned grasshoppers, the insecticide accumulates in the owls’ bodies. Where Carbofuran is used within 50 m of burrows, the affected owls produce 54 percent fewer young than normal.

While many Burrowing Owls migrate to the southern US and Mexico for the winter, researchers have been trying to find out why only half of adult Burrowing Owls come back to their northern breeding grounds each spring, and why a mere six per cent of young owls return to breed in Canada the year after they are born.

What is Being Done

Burrowing Owls are protected in all provinces where they are found – BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

“Operation Burrowing Owl” was established in Saskatchewan in 1987 to encourage landowners to protect the Burrowing Owls’ nesting habitat. By 1994, 534 landowners in Saskatchewan had committed themselves to protecting owl habitats. In Alberta, the program has expanded to include protection for other endangered species, and is called “Operation Grassland Community”. By 1994, about 260 landowners in Alberta had committed to protecting habitats around owl nesting sites, amounting to over 22,000 ha.

In 1992, six Burrowing Owl pairs were reintroduced to the southern interior of British Columbia. As of 1995, an estimated five to ten pairs of Burrowing Owls were living in BC.

In 1994, the Operation Burrowing Owl newsletter was translated into Spanish for Mexican distribution in the hope that protection will be offered to the birds in their wintering areas.

In 1996, a decision was made by the federal government to slowly phase out some of the uses of the insecticide Carbofuran.

In addition, a national Burrowing Owl recovery team, working through Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW), approved a recovery plan in 1995 and updated the plan in 2002. The end goal of the plan is to increase Burrowing Owl populations in Canada to levels where they become self-sustaining.

What You Can Do

  • Learn more about the Burrowing Owl and its habitat and share this information with your family, friends, and community.
  • Support groups and individuals who are working to save the Burrowing Owl.
  • Encourage farmers and other landowners not to disturb areas in which Burrowing Owls live. Encourage landowners to use alternatives to pesticides or lower doses of these chemicals.

    Read the full article at Nature Canada

Friday, 08 June 2018 07:14

She did it for love.

She did it for love: Rare wild owl tries burrowing into Manitoba enclosure to find mate

Researcher says fewer than 5 pairs of burrowing owls left in wild; Manitoba population nearing extirpation

CBC News · Posted: Jun 06, 2018

With files from Janice Grant and Aidan Geary

A small, tenacious owl discovered trying to worm its way into a captive male's enclosure last weekend has found a love connection researchers hope will result in much-needed burrowing owl chicks.

A field assistant with the Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program was doing a regular check on the program's five captive mating pairs on Sunday when she spotted the wild little owl, apparently doggedly interested in getting inside one of the pens.

"She was trying to push through [chicken wire] with her head, which she wasn't able to do, and then she was digging at the outside of the pen as well. She was using her talons to sort of dig underneath — it wasn't doing too much," said Alex Froese, the program director.

"She was very, very eager and very interested in getting into this pen."

Read the full CBC story here

About BOCS BC

We are a non-profit society concerned about the conservation of species and habitats in BC.

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